What I Learned From 30 Days of Paleo

Food controls us in so many different ways. It’s unavoidable. We need food to survive. But I never really understood just controlling food can be until I spent 30 days eating a strict Paleo diet. Andy decided to join me on the experiment, which I did not expect, but it made it a little easier to take knowing we were in it together. Here’s how our month went.

Restaurants are nearly impossible

Andy and I missed eating out, not so much because of the food itself, but because being at a restaurant forces us out of the normal distractions at home. It’s a time when we talk, and often we connect and have really good conversations. It’s not impossible to eat out on a Paleo diet, but during the first 30 days when it’s still difficult just to figure out what to eat, eating out is usually a poor choice.

The diet itself caused us stress

It’s still a new thing for us, which means there are still a lot of details to work out. We eat a lot of sweet potatoes now, which take awhile to cook in the oven. Cutting up tons of veggies takes a lot of time. Looking for new recipes so we don’t get so bored of the same chicken/sweet potato/veggie pile takes a lot of time. There are days when I felt like half my waking hours were spent in the kitchen.

Even aside from the time sink, the multitude of restrictions felt suffocating. I’m sure, like anything, it gets easier with time. But sometimes I felt like the stress of trying to figure out what to eat was offsetting any progress I was making by eating healthy food.

I struggle with breakfast

When I was a kid, I’d go through phases where I’d eat the same cereal day after day after day. Then I’d have to switch after months of this. I remember a time when I had Carnation Instant Breakfast every day. For years I brought boxes of breakfast bars (Luna bars or some variation) into work. One time I over-dramatically told my dad that I had a fear of breakfast foods, and the joke stuck.

Paleo breakfast is suppose to include protein, fat, and vegetables like any other meal, but I can’t handle it more than a couple times a week. I make a smoothie almost every day, despite the fact that it has no protein or fat, and it’s more fruit than vegetable. Now, a couple months later, I throw some chorizo and/or bacon (from a local butcher who makes pork products from happy pigs) into a pan, and once the fats start to come out, I add veggies. I still only do this a couple times a week, but it’s much more enjoyable than chicken.

what I learned from 30 days of Paleo

There is never a good time to start a strict diet

We had six weeks between getting home from our most recent trip and moving to Berlin. Which is about how long it takes to do 30 days of Paleo plus almost two weeks of reintroducing foods that were eliminated. We decided being in Freiburg was a good time to start because there aren’t a lot of restaurants here we’re in love with, and it seemed like it would be easy to do it in a place where we’re comfortable.

It turns out we do have a few restaurants we wanted to eat at one last time, and trying to do a strict diet while dealing with packing and other moving stress made us want to binge on chocolate and alcohol. Plus in the time leading up to Easter, we couldn’t go anywhere without mountains of chocolate bunnies in our faces. I wanted to rip into them like a savage eating his kill after a long famine.

I also got a sinus infection in the middle of the 30 days, including three days of fever. During the reintroduction phase, we were moving and had to stay in a hotel one night. We were forced to eat out for several meals, and I ended up with either food poisoning or a 24 hour bug the one night we were in a hotel. I’m sure these factors skewed my results.

It’s a lot easier to add than subtract

I can get on board with the idea of adding more veggies to my diet. Even Andy can tolerate a lot more vegetables than he thought. There are tons of things I’m eating now that I didn’t eat a few months ago. But taking things out of my diet is difficult.

No sugar. No dairy. No gluten or other grains. No alcohol.

That was a tough 30 days without those things. So many things have sugar or flour or cornstarch or dairy that I didn’t even think about until I couldn’t eat those things. Trying to accept the idea of eliminating or greatly reducing certain foods was an emotional struggle. No dairy means no ice cream. No sugar means no chocolate. I tried gluten free pizza recently, and it wasn’t horrible, but that crust is no replacement for the real thing.

what I learned from 30 days of Paleo

Fat doesn’t make you fat

I read this on countless Paleo websites, and their logic makes sense. But it’s been so ingrained in us to eat low fat foods that it was still really tough to make myself eat more fat. We switched to the full fat coconut milk. I use 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil on the sweet potatoes and veggies we roast in the oven, plus a tablespoon or two of olive or coconut oil for the meat in the pan. Sometimes I make guacamole with an entire avocado and add chicken to it, and that’s my lunch.

I lost about 9 pounds in 30 days. (Andy lost 12.) That’s more weight than I lost during a 3 month period last year when we were going to the gym 2-3 days a week and counting calories. When you include that, plus the weight I lost in the months leading up to the 30 days of strict Paleo, I’m down about 20 pounds from a year ago. Yay!

I never got the energy boost

A lot of what I read about eating this way were stories of people who felt amazing after a couple of weeks. People who had more energy than before, who felt so good they couldn’t imagine going back to how they ate before. That was NOT our experience. I have a digestive disease so I’m starting at a disadvantage, so I guess it’s not surprising. But Andy didn’t felt that boost in energy either.

I still believe this way of eating is better for me in the long run, but during that 30 days I just wanted a damn pizza. And a few of those chocolate bunnies. And a couple of rum and cokes. And a nap. We took lots of naps.

Back to real life

Now that our 30 days are over, I’m still doing my best to avoid gluten and dairy because they make me feel really bloated, but I will eat rice or rice noodles or corn chips at Mexican restaurants occasionally. As for sugar and alcohol, well I try not to over-indulge, but I can’t completely eliminate chocolate and a few fun drinks from my life. Most Paleo bloggers say they eat Paleo 80-85% of the time anyway.

Our energy levels feel more normal now. I think we weren’t eating enough calories during the 30 days, especially not enough carbs. When you eliminate pasta, rice, bread, etc., you eliminate a lot of calories. Now we make sure to eat a reasonable amount of sweet potatoes or other starchy vegetables, and we feel much better.

what I learned from 30 days of Paleo

We buy our butter and most of our meat from organic sources, and I add veggies in wherever I can. We also make more meals in bulk now, which drastically reduces the amount of time we spend cooking throughout the week. Usually on Sunday afternoon, we’ll make a big pot of Irish stew, roast a whole chicken (afterwards the bones go into the Crock Pot to make bone broth), and make one other big meal. This gives us enough food to eat for most of the week with very little work to do at each specific mealtime.

Basically I’ve given myself permission to sometimes eat things that are not allowed on the Paleo diet. I’m not emotionally ready to go in 100% and as long as my health seems to be doing better, I feel good about where I am. It’s an ongoing battle between what I want to eat and what my body can handle without getting sick. I’ll just have to keep fighting.